By: Jenny Ewalt, Primary Teacher
Take a trip down memory lane with me would you…think back to when you were in grade school…Remember what your refrigerator looked like? Mine was covered in artwork, spelling tests, and every scrap of paper I brought home from school. I would dump the bag out and my mom would tac it all onto the fridge with a magnet. In my traditional public-school education, emphasis was put on the “product” of a day’s work. When I brought home spelling words written repeatedly, mathematical operations worked though, and art that I had created, it was a sign that I had worked hard and learned a lot. We must ask ourselves though, is paperwork truly a sign that our children are working hard?
Montessori stated that it’s the process not the product that truly matters. Through the work being done, the child will acquire the newly desired skill and build mental faculties even if she never completes it. The product is therefore not the piece of paper she has written on, but rather the knowledge gathered. A simple example is that of a child’s painting.
“What did you make?” is often the question we ask. Sometimes the subject is a bird or a train or the child’s family. Looking at this finished product, we can’t possibly see that this child used the brush to perfect her pincer grip preparing for writing skills, she mixed red and blue creating purple, she counted the arms and legs to make sure she had the correct amount on each person, or that she spent a solid 15 minutes focused and concentrated on using the space given to tell her story. All of that and she may even leave it hanging outside to dry and forget about it. You see, for the child, the work put into it was her masterpiece, not the painting itself.
In the Montessori environment, you don’t often see hordes of paperwork coming home for this reason. A lot of the materials are designed to be experienced without the pressures of a paper and pencil. It isn’t until the child reaches the final step of committing a certain skill to memory that she will create a tangible product. For example, when a Primary student first learns addition, it is in a very sensorial way at 3 years old with the number rods. She will then move to golden bead addition, and it is not until she has reached the stamp game that she will use paper to do the operations. Yet she has been learning about addition for well over a year at that point. She has had a chance to truly understand the concept, practice the skill in a very tactile way, and make mistakes before committing the answer to paper.
This is not a difficult concept for children; they learn from adults to find value in their product. More often than not, I find art work left on a countertop and finished cursive writing that was tossed aside. Children crave experience, and you as parents can provide that for them! Try using water to paint on a sidewalk or let them trace letters into shaving cream. The best part is that we no longer have to feel guilty about tucking away our child’s many masterpieces, for we know the importance lies in how it made them feel while creating it.